5. So prayer really does matter when it comes to making sure that God’s Will happens?
Yes! If we believe that God always does what He wants, then we won’t realize that prayer matters in discerning God’s plans for us and in getting His Will done. Our prayer life will be weak. And there are examples in the Old Testament that support the necessity of prayer and the fact that it affects whether His Will gets done or not.
In Exodus 23: 32, God tells Israel to make no covenant with the people in the land of Canaan after they take possession of it. But in Joshua 9, we read about the Gibeonite deception and how they did make a treaty with these people, believing that they were from a distant land. Joshua 9: 14 says that in this instance, Israel “did not inquire of the Lord.”
God’s Will and plan was that they didn’t make a treaty with these people. And I believe that God would have uncovered this deception for Israel and would have warned them not to make a treaty with them . . . if they had prayed about it. But they didn’t pray about it, so God’s Will didn’t happen in this case.
And likewise, 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 says this “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.”
Was it God’s Will that all this happened in Saul’s life? Or did Saul have some responsibility in all this, and did lack of prayer and obedience have an effect on what happened to him? “Saul died because . . . he did not keep the word of the Lord . . . and did not inquire of the Lord.”
For years, I have lived with the idea that God will always do whatever He wanted, so I really never understood the purpose and power of prayer. I used to see prayer the way that I have heard numerous people describe it: “Prayer is important just because it is an act of showing that we are dependent on God, and it draws us closer to Him because we are spending time with Him.” That’s all. It has no more effect than just showing our dependence and building our relationship. Because after all, He does whatever He wants to do anyway. So, really, our prayers are just formalities and for our benefit, right?
And I think that this is one of Satan’s most effective tools. Because if he can convince people that their prayers aren’t really necessary because God is so in control that He’ll just do whatever He wants to do anyway, then the church will be ineffectual, lacking the kind of prayers that are necessary to battle the forces of evil and to get God’s Will done.
But if our prayers are just formalities, why would we be told in James 5:16 that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”? If they were just formalities, we would be told something more like this, “Prayer is good for a righteous man because it draws him near to God.” But it doesn’t say that. It says that prayer is “powerful and effective.” Powerful and effective for what? I believe that it’s powerful against the kingdom of darkness and that it’s effective for getting God’s Will done.
An example illustrating the necessity of prayer to get things done is in Job 42. In this chapter, we read that God is angry with Job’s friends for not speaking of Him what is right. And He says, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.” (Verse 8) Now, if God intended to forgive them anyway - if it was His Will and what He planned to do - why didn’t He just do it? Why require and wait for Job to pray? Because prayer is what gets God’s Will done on earth.
1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.”
I think this verse shows us that His Will (what He desires to have happen) doesn’t just happen because He is all-powerful and can make it happen. We have to pray for it, to seek it. And to obey! God leaves the responsibility with mankind to put His Will (what He desires to have happen) into motion with our prayers.
We are not just commanded to pray because it’s good for us or shows our dependence on God. Prayer actually gets God’s Will done. God wills things in Heaven, but it’s man’s job to bring that Will to fruition on earth by our prayers, obedience, and righteous living. And it’s when we ask for something that He wants for us that we get it. (But this doesn’t mean that we always get what we ask for. It has to be in line with what God wants for us.)
But I think that the flip-side is true, also. If we don’t ask for what He wants for us, we won’t get it. He doesn’t just lead us down His best path when we refuse to “inquire of the Lord.” And as James 4:2 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” If we ask for something He doesn’t want, it won’t happen. But also if we don’t pray for and seek out what He does want, it won’t happen. Our prayers and obedience have an effect on getting God’s Will done or not. (Of course, there are times that God does whatever He wants, apart from us. And yes, He does still take care of us and provide for us without our needing to ask for every little thing. I am not going to the extreme of saying that God does nothing and gives nothing unless we pray for it. I am saying that, in general and in many ways, I think that He has chosen to work with and through man's prayers and cooperation to accomplish His plans on earth. And the Bible is full of examples like this.)
I think that, yes, prayer is crucial in acknowledging our dependence on God and building our relationship with Him (through honesty and transparency). But it goes so much further than just being a show of dependence and drawing us closer. It gets His Will done!
Posts in this "Understanding God's Will" series:
9c: Verses 9d: Idolatry 9e: Unanswered 9f: Not Listening 9g: More Verses 9h: Effective Prayer 9i: Still Waiting 10: Bad Things Happen 11a: Happens For A Reason? 11b: Marriage Trouble 11c: Deliberate Ignorance 11d: Bad Things Beyond Us 12: God Works Good 13: Limiting God? 14/15: God Forcing Things? 16: Change God's Mind? 17: But God Can't Change? 18: Our Responsibilities